For centuries rosemary has been the symbol of rememberance. Crush as few leaves in your hand, close your eyes and inhale the aroma – and feel your head instantly clearing… This week sees the start of Chef Suné Niemand’s herb series. With a little help from garden ghuru Sharon Walker readers will be advised on how to grow and use the herbs in their gardens.
Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden, most herbs are easily grown in pots. All they need is well drained soil, water and sunshine and they will reward you by adding a fresh taste to your meals throughout the year.
Basil happily grows in a pot on a windowsill or in the garden. It can be grown from seeds or seedlings and likes hot weather. Most varieties are annuals; however, there is a perennial variety which survives mild frosts. Start harvesting when the stems are about 20cm long. When it produces flowers, pinch them off to encourage more leaves.
Chives are easily grown from seeds or seedlings. They like full sun and protect vegetables from many harmful insects. Keep this perennial happy by dividing it every couple of years. To harvest, snip leaves off 2cm above the base. Don’t cut the tops as if giving them a hair trim; this will just weaken the plant.
Lavender likes plenty of air circulation above and well-drained soil below. If its feet are in soggy soil it will probably die. This is another herb which likes being cut back. Prune about 8cm of the growth in early spring.
Lemon verbena is an aromatic herb. It grows into a small shrub and will die back during frost. In the spring, give it a severe pruning and it will bounce back quickly. In the summer, pick branches and hang them to dry – the leaves retain their aroma for longer than most herbs.
Marjoram and Oregano are both undemanding herbs and are more easily grown from seedlings. They like hot, sunny places and don’t require much water. Marjoram is more sensitive to frost and is mostly grown as an annual. Oregano, a perennial, is hardier and all it needs is an occasional trimming.
Mint is easy to grow; preventing it from taking over your garden is the hard part. Plant in pots or, if you want it as part of your herb garden, bury it in bottomless pots in the ground to prevent it becoming invasive. In midsummer, when the mint is at its tastiest, harvest leaves and dry them for midwinter use.
Parsley takes ages to germinate and is easier to grow from seedings. It is a low-maintenance plant once established. Plant new seedlings every year as second year plants become tough and bitter. To harvest, snip leaves off several plants rather than denuding one. It does not retain its taste very well when dried.
Rosemary is a useful plant in both the garden and kitchen. It is more easily grown from seedlings and once established it is a robust herb, as long as it is in full sun and not over watered. Rosemary benefits from being cut, so harvest it regularly.
Thyme is hardy, unfussy and easy to grow. It does well in hot dry weather. Grow from seedlings or root divisions from existing plants. Picking regularly keeps thyme happy. Try growing lemon thyme for a vairation of flavour.
Grilled deboned chicken thighs with lemon and herb butter
|1||small bunch of chives, finely chopped|
|5ml||lemon thyme, finely chopped|
|1||small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped|
|Zest and juice of 1 lemon|
|59g||unsalted butter, softened|
|Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|60ml||Extra-virgin olive oil|
|6||deboned chicken thighs|
|Lemon wedges, to garnish (optional)|
- Mix together the chopped herbs and lemon zest and divide into two bowls. Add 5ml of lemon juice and the butter to one bowl, plus salt and freshly ground pepper. Beat vigorously, spoon it roughly in the shape of a sausage onto some greaseproof paper. Roll up the paper round the ‘sausage’ and gently roll under your fingertips until it is smooth; chill until needed.
- To make the herb marinade, pour the remaining lemon juice into the second bowl of herbs. Add olive oil and some black pepper.
- Take the flat deboned chicken thighs, coat them with the herb marinade, place in a bowl and cover it to chill for 30 minutes.
- Take the rosemary sprigs and place it on the deboned marinated thighs, roll the thigh so that the rosemary sprig is in the middle of the thigh. Do so with the rest of the marinated thighs.
- Grill the thighs in the oven; serve hot adding a slice of the chilled herb butter on top, which will melt over the chicken. Add a wedge of lemon if you like.